Step back a moment. Close your eyes and just imagine being encased and bound. Not by conventional rope or cuffs, but by something way more sophisticated and refined—Bondage Couture by Una Burke. Basing her designs on medieval war armor, this fashion designer/artist uses woven leather strips and metal fittings to create pieces that are maneuverable, allowing the wearer to function normally—-but, at the same time, make them feel completely encased and protected.

Looking like a warped Grimm Brothers’ fairytale mixed with protective prosthetic limbs and fetish clothing, the narrative of her work appears to be that the same protection for the body can just as easily be a means for entrapment.

copyright: Una Burke

copyright: Una Burke

The compelling story behind each of Burke’s pieces stems from psychological reference points of human trauma and extends all the way back to military history. She cleverly weaves a seductive story into each of her avant-garde designs; transcending the boundaries between art and fashion. This is a prime example of how wearable art can enable its wearer to extend their personality through each garment—in the way that Mediaeval armor proclaimed status. The strong architectural storyline, along with her trademark techniques, makes each design emotive, innovative, versatile, and comforting in a variety of contexts.

copyright: Una Burke

copyright: Una Burke

copyright: Una Burke

“Through my work I continually aim to create leather objects which are both visually captivating and technically challenging. They are pieces of wearable art which are indefinable as particular garments, preventing them from being placed into the conventional categories of the fashion industry.”
–Una Burke

Burke comes from a family of cobblers and chose traditional leather crafting while studying for her Masters in Fashion Artefact at the prestigious Cordwainers College at the London College of Fashion. Respect for the materials natural strength and distinct characteristics, along with it’s stubborn and strong willed nature, challenged her to create beyond the bounds of what the fashion and art world expected of a new graduate student.

Working with flesh-toned leather preserved with natural materials like wood barks, Burke awards us, and arrests us, with spectacular results. The fetish inspired aesthetic looks fore-boding and not everyone is meant to wear these fashions. With such ambitious architectural structure, whoever wears the work needs to possess a strong personality with the desire to stand out in the crowd.

copyright: Una Burke

copyright: Una Burke

“I am intrigued by humanity and the human mind, in particular our mental capabilities and restrictions. I am constantly drawn to observing how we cope in the face of danger and use war armor, military uniforms and medical braces as physical representations of the emotional barriers used by us to protect us through restriction.”
–Una Burke

Although it maybe a stretch of the imagination, it’s not so far-fetched to say her work encompasses the human condition and our propensity for great healing. Starting from her inspirations and leading to the final creation, her entire process seems to follow this deeply rooted psychological expression. Emotionally charged and based on some tough subject matter—human trauma, deformity, death rituals—you get the idea, virtually every one of Burke’s designs can be broken down and worn either as a structured accessory or full ensemble. Whether its arms secured behind the back, or legs bent in a forced crouch, every piece embodies a unique narrative. However, what is truly special about these designs is when the body is removed from the leather structure, the shape of a contorted human form emerges.

copyright: Una Burke
Copyright: Una Burke

Copyright: Una Burke

Copyright: Una Burke

“The story behind them is trauma, and how we build up after a trauma,” the designer explains. “Human beings are so resilient, we create coping mechanisms. You guys know all about these. What I made were visual representations of the emotional barriers that we sometimes have to build in order to protect ourselves and stay strong, like a coping mechanism. But then sometimes people can trap themselves within that.”
–Una Burke

To learn more about Una Burke, visit her site here.

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